In a landmark decision in June of 2010 Justice Crowley of the Maine Superior Court ruled that a person who observes an injury to his domestic partner is entitled to recover damages for the resulting emotional distress.
In this case plaintiff was the operator of a motorcycle, and his domestic partner was a passenger behind him when a car operated by the defendant turned left in front of them causing both plaintiff and his girlfriend to be thrown from the bike. In the instant which ensued plaintiff sat up and saw his partner lying on the ground moaning and rocking with cuts on her face and with swollen eyes. Because she was not responsive to him plaintiff concluded that she was seriously injured and he experienced anxiety that she might die or be permanently injured.
Recovery for bystander emotional distress has been limited by most courts to family members or persons with a “family relationship”, precluding people who are not “closely related to the victim”.
Plaintiff and his partner had co-habited for eight years, were registered as domestic partners with the City of Portland and maintained joint bank accounts. He carried her on his health and dental insurance, and she was the beneficiary of his life insurance. They filed separate tax returns and had no plans to marry.
In concluding that their relationship was equivalent to actual family ties Justice Crowley has taken a bold step in bringing the law into conformity with the reality of the modern world in which many couples have the close bond of marriage without the benefit taking the legal step to get married.